Epiphany: (2) The Appearance of God’s Kindness and Love

December 7, 2003 / No. 3179

Dear radio friends,

In our remembrance of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are following a series of messages under the theme “Epiphany.”  This is a Greek word meaning “appearance,” the word that the Holy Spirit uses to describe Christ’s coming in the flesh.

Our passage today is Titus 3:3, 4:   “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.  But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared.”  I speak to you today on “The Appearance of God’s Kindness and Love.”

We should notice that the passage begins with the word “for.”  So we are going to be given a reason for something, a reason to practice the exhortations of God’s Word in verses 1 and 2.  In these verses God tells us that we are to be obedient to magistrates, or to civil rulers.  “Put them in mind,” Paul says to Titus, “to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work.”  Then, in verse 2, God gives us the exhortation that we are to be kind to our neighbors.  “To speak evil,” says the apostle, “of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.”  We are not to revile another person.  We are not to be quarrelsome, contentious, soon angry.  But we are to yield personal advantage, to help the needy, and to be considerate of the fallen.  This was especially applicable to Titus as he was laboring among the Cretians.  According to Paul’s letter to Titus, the Cretians were notorious as being a quarrelsome and contentious people.

So God brings to us two exhortations:  Be obedient to the authority over you; and be kind to your neighbor.  Why?  The apostle (really the Holy Spirit) gives us the reason in the appearing, the epiphany, of God’s kindness and love in our Savior’s birth.  In other words, the Word of God is saying, consider yourself.  Just exactly what kind of a person are you?  How do you stand before God?  Then, you must consider that the kindness and love of our God appeared toward us in the gift of His Son.  Then we too must live in kindness and love one for another.

When our Lord Jesus Christ, then, appeared in our flesh on that glorious night long ago in Bethlehem, the kindness and love of God, our Savior, toward man appeared.  The word “appeared,” is “epiphany,” a word that means “to shine out.”  The love and kindness of God shone out of the gloom and the darkness of a world of sin.  It sparkled, it became very apparent.

No, there was not an earthly glow of light out of the manger.  It was not the glow of some kind of mystical light.  And it is not the glow that is glamorized in Christmas cards and all of the ideas of a warm Christmas setting and a cozy fireplace.  You see, you need to have eyes, new eyes, to see this light.  You must be given faith, the gift of God, and your eyes must be opened by a divine operation of the Holy Spirit to be able to see the light of God’s love and kindness.

But what appeared in Bethlehem was something of God.  God’s own virtue shone out of the stable.  But apart from God’s work of grace in your heart, you do not see those virtues.  When you do, you hate them.  It is the grace of God that opens our eyes to see that, when Christ was born, the soft and comforting virtues of the kindness and love of God towards His church shone out brilliantly.

The kindness and love of God are bound together in the text that we are considering (and throughout all of Scripture).  Love is the cause of kindness, and kindness is the action of love.  God’s love and kindness are always bound together.  They look upon God’s own heart towards His elect, toward those whom He has chosen freely of His grace, as He is moved toward them and sees them in their misery and wretchedness and impotence.  God’s love and kindness is the soft and piteous tenderness of God’s heart directed toward those whom He has chosen, who of themselves are wretched, cruel, fallen sinners.

It is God’s thoughtfulness.  In His kindness and love He thinks upon us for our good.  Do we not say that to each other:  “How kind that was of you!”  We mean, “How thoughtful that was of you.”  The kindness and love of God refer to that virtue of our God as He is tender, soft-hearted, thoughtful to the ones whom He has chosen, who are, in themselves, utterly hopeless and vile sinners.

The Scriptures present this virtue as being all-sufficient for the believer.  Psalm 63:3, “The lovingkindness [of my God] is better than life [to me].”  How can our hearts remain dejected and hopeless when we entertain the thought of God’s lovingkindness toward us — a lovingkindness that faileth never?  We read this, for instance, in Psalm 42:8, “Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime.”  There the psalmist is reasoning his way out of depression.  His soul has been cast down within him.  He is far from God’s house and God’s people.  He is in the midst of a land of enemies and strangers and different tongues.  His comfort?  The Lord has commanded His lovingkindness — He has given the command for His lovingkindness to be with the psalmist always.

We have a similar thing in Psalm 48:9, “We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God.”  There the psalmist says that the joyful child of God, as he goes forth to worship, finds a great motivation and impulse to worship God when he begins to think of the lovingkindness of God to us.

The lovingkindness of God appeared when Jesus was born.  This is what caused the shepherds to return glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard even as it was told to them of the angel.  This is what Mary pondered in her heart that night.  She turned it over and over and over again.  Do you not do the same?

To return to Titus 3, what would you expect verse 4 to say after you read verse 3?  Verse 3 said that “we ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.”  What would you expect to follow that verse?  Would you expect verse 4 to read:  “And God justly damned them for their awful treason, horrible perverseness, and for the sin that they had committed”?  If we did read that, then all we could say is this:  True and righteous are Thy judgments, O Lord God Almighty.

But, after all of that, we read that “the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared.”  The idea of “man” is “mankind” or all of those chosen from mankind by God’s eternal election.  For the apostle is talking about salvation.  And salvation is not an attempt on God’s part, it is not an offer on God’s part, it is not simply that God says, “I have this salvation and I would like the hand of the dead sinner to please accept it.”  Oh, no!  God’s intentions are particular, they are of grace.  Therefore, the lovingkindness of God appeared toward fallen man, man who of himself is fallen from God, man who has been chosen by the grace of God unto salvation.

Toward them the kindness and love of God appeared when Jesus Christ, Immanuel, was in the manger.  There was the kindness of God.  He gave His Son.  The mission of the Son was our help.  It was thoughtful.  He came to take us from the groveling of sin and from the dunghill of our misery to a palace of fellowship and friendship.  It was kind.  God did not need our friendship.  He is the eternally blessed one.  Yet He gave His own Son in our flesh, for those who had betrayed Him, for those who had spoken evilly of Him, for those who have ruined His gift and challenged His sovereignty and transgressed His righteousness and blasphemed His name!  Is it not amazing?  The kindness and the love of God shone forth when He gave His Son in Bethlehem for His children.

For us, for the ones who are described in verse 3:  “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient….”  If you have your Bible open and you are looking at Titus 3:3, I ask you a simple question:  Who is verse 3 talking about?  Is it talking about child predators, movie stars who get married four, five, six times looking for true love?  No, the Holy Spirit is not talking about them in verse 3.  Is the Holy Spirit talking about the Cretians?  You remember I mentioned earlier in the message that the Cretians were noted as a most contentious lot.  So, is the Holy Spirit talking about those Cretians who formed a church back then and who were known to speak evil of other people and to degrade authority, and were quarrelsome and explosive and brawlers?  The answer to that is, No, the Holy Spirit, technically, is not even talking, first of all, about them.  If we want to be strictly technical, the “we” refers to Paul and Titus:  “For we ourselves….”  This is Paul’s letter to Titus.  It refers to Paul and to Titus.

You see, the Holy Spirit is talking about us, as children of God, what we are in ourselves.  For we ourselves, that is, those who are recipients of the free grace of God, we ourselves are foolish, disobedient … and hating one another!  That is what the Word of God is saying to us.

We are being exhorted by God’s Word, of course, that, in Christ Jesus, we are to repent and to be gentle and meek.  We are to mature in Jesus Christ.  We are not to be contentious.  We are being exhorted to see the wonderful grace of God in the appearing of His Son Jesus Christ.  God’s love and kindness appeared to us, who were totally undeserving.

This is who we were by nature.  We were sometimes foolish, that is, senseless, unable to discern the reality of God, unable to discern the reality of His judgments.  We were disobedient, that is, an innate rebellion against God is within our hearts.  We will not have Him to rule over us.  We are deceived or deluded, we are blind to what is behind our own nose, our own sins.  We would serve divers lusts and pleasures.  That is, of ourselves, we would be enslaved to passions and to lusts.  We would live in malice and envy — that would be our inward attitude, that would be our code of life.  We are hateful and hating one another.  That is really the summary of it all.  By nature we hate, we are full of hate.  That is the description of what we are.

And we cannot change that in ourselves.  Only God’s mercy can do that.  That is the gospel.  You cannot become a better person by yourself.  Look at verse 5, which follows immediately after our passage:  “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration.”  You see, God does not find in us anything that He ought to love, but He loves us because of His own name’s sake.  If there is one drop of good in us, if there is one impulse of repentance found in us, if there is a surge of love within us, if there is a desire of compassion and forgiveness toward others in us, it is all because of the amazing gift of God in sheer mercy.  You and I cannot give ourselves credit for it.

Now, we who fully believe, and must believe and ought to believe, that these things are true of us in ourselves — do we not stand speechless before God’s kindness and love in giving His Son for us?  What kindness and what love of God!

Then there will be a result.  And that result is implied:  We will manifest the kindness and love of God.  That love of God and kindness will now begin to appear, to shine forth, to be reflected out of our own lives.  His kindness and His love are powers to change us, to crucify that ferocious nature and to make us humble members of the church of Jesus Christ.  A wonderful change takes place.  And that change takes place through the coming of our Savior, through the grace and through the love and through the kindness of God revealed in our Savior.  It takes us, who are of ourselves hateful and proud and filled with all types of evil, and it changes us, by the grace of God, so that we turn and we desire to live in true love with our neighbor and true submission to all authority that is over us.

God’s grace that appeared in Jesus Christ makes us kind one to another.  We read in Ephesians 4:32, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted.”  We read in I Corinthians 13, “Love suffereth long and is kind.”  And we read in Luke 6:35 that our God is “kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”  The wonderful grace of God, the kindness and the love of God, has appeared in the birth of Jesus Christ.  And that kindness and love of God is powerful, saving us and renewing us so that now we, too, are kind.

That means that it is that virtue of grace in us that makes us friendly, that makes the individual child of God attractive, that leaves behind a profitable and edifying atmosphere, that encourages others unto love and affection in the church and home and family.  That we are made kind by the grace of God means that we are given the ability to bear with one another, we are not inclined to react with harshness but rather with kindness, and we become thoughtful one of another, considerate.

Are you kind?  Girls, are you kind to your sister, or are you catty?  Do you bristle, or are you kind?  Are you the kind of person who is safe to be with?  Boys, are you kind, are you thoughtful?  Do you show this forth in your very deed and word one to another?

And, not only kind, but loving, for we cannot separate, as we said, the kindness and the love of God.  The love of God, you know, always humbles us.  It is a great mystery to us.  We ask the question, Why would God love me?  We cannot find the answer to that question except in the eternal heart of God:  He has loved us for His name’s sake.  There it is.  As God has shown the lovingkindness of His heart toward us in the gift of His Son, and in that gift of His Son has redeemed us, made us His own, we, too, are given to love.  Love God and love one another.

And then we repent.  We repent of our sins.  We do not look to ourselves for the reason for God to have loved us.  But we look to Him and to what He has done.  And we bow before Him in humble worship, resolved that we, too, shall live in all kindness and love one to another.

The wonderful love and kindness of God appeared in the birth of the Savior.

     When you see that, by His love and mercy, you will arise and you will live in kindness and love to the praise of His name.

Let us pray.

Father, we again thank Thee for Thy Word.  We would ask for Thy blessing upon the Word of God to our hearts.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.